An “increase in infiltration into the economy” by criminal organisations is already being recorded at a European level. For this reason it is essential that EU countries understand that the mafias have staked a claim on the funds allocated to overcome the crisis,” said Catherine De Bolle, the executive director of Europol, at the meeting of European police chiefs in Rome.
The summit was called to take stock of criminal threats connected to the pandemic.
“The increase in infiltration is the reason why Europol is asked to carefully monitor loans” connected to the recovery fund, De Bolle said according to Italian media reports.
“Funds set up by the member states are already being targeted by criminal organisations and we expect they will be even more so (in future),” she added.
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During the crisis organised crime groups have already been preying on the public, as well as private companies and health authorities in many countries, she explained.
“Highly sought-after products, such as disinfectants, face masks, thermometers, mechanical ventilators and phantom cures for coronavirus continue to be the subject of far-reaching scams online,” she said.
“A more sophisticated modus operandi sees criminals seizing corporate identities and offering victims the sale of products linked to the pandemic, only to disappear into thin air.”
Europol and Italy's police chiefs have repeatedly warned in recent years that Italian mafia groups are increasingly expanding their operations across Europe, and worldwide.
International anti-mafia stings may have become more frequent, but organized crime groups originating in Italy constitute a social and economic “cancer” that many other coutries seem to underestimate, experts have said.
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Vittorio Rizzi, italy's deputy police chief, warned at the summit on Tuesday that all European countries run the risk of discovering mafia infiltration “too late”, when “the damage to the real economy becomes irreparable.”
In Italy, “if there have been infiltrations already we are not fully aware of it. But to think that there are countries or economic systems immune to the risk of infiltration would be a very serious mistake,” Rizzi warned.
“Just as no country has been immune to Covid-19, no one will be from criminal organizations, which have been part of the European and world fabric for many years,” he sadded.
“The pervasiveness of the virus is in fact the same as that of the mafias,” he added, warning that mafia groups stand ready to profit from the crisis as “in times of economic recession liquidity is needed, and whoever has available money conquers the market.”